By Alan Baldwin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton says he will be tougher on track to Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas now that the Finn is again leading the Formula One championship, even if relations would remain respectful.
The five-times world champion said after Bottas won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the team’s fourth successive one-two finish, that he had been “too friendly” at the start and “basically gave it to him”.
Hamilton made clear to reporters at the Spanish Grand Prix on Thursday that Bottas would have to fight hard for position from now on.
“Ultimately, the core goal is for the team to finish at the top and I’m a team player,” he said.
“We’re not going to be touching (cars), that’s for sure. But in terms of giving up positions, that won’t happen again,” added the 34-year-old.
Bottas and Hamilton have two wins and two second places each but the Finn is a point ahead by virtue of the newly-introduced point for fastest lap at the Australian season-opener.
Hamilton starts as favorite for Sunday’s race, the first round of the traditional European season, as he chases his fourth Spanish Grand Prix victory with rivals Ferrari struggling to assert themselves.
The Briton, who has won the last two races at the Circuit de Catalunya, alluded to the internal strife that marked the years when he was partnered by now-retired 2016 champion team mate Nico Rosberg.
He assured reporters that was not about to be repeated.
“There’s things that happen in the background that you won’t know about,” he said. “What’s really important is that we pull together as a team. We’ve discussed it and hopefully rectified it and it won’t spring up again.
“What happened before, an individual just continued to go down that route, but that’s not what we have here.
“The respect is there. We have an agreed rule set out so that we do finish the races one-two and we play supporting roles either way.
“Yes, it’s going to be close and tight between us. Tension, that’s just there — there’s always tension when you want to beat someone else….but what we’re paid to do is win for the team. As long as we remember that we shouldn’t have problems.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)